Rules of the Ramp

by Ann Eichenmuller
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Monogamy does not exist in boating. You may love your cruising sailboat or your roomy trawler, but no one can expect to be satisfied by just one boat. We had this epiphany on a dead calm August day watching our sails luff through the sweat in our eyes. We decided to add a trailerable runabout to our personal flotilla, which turned out to be a brilliant idea except for one small problem—the public ramp.  ¶  The term “ramp rage” is not an exaggeration. It accurately refers to the increase in blood pressure and the loss of self-control that accompanies use of a public landing. There are rules for using a boat ramp, but unfortunately they have been unwritten (at least until today) and largely ignored. Below is a brief review of ramp etiquette, which I suggest be taught along with table manners by boating parents everywhere: 

Rule #1  Load gear into your vessel at home or in the Walmart parking lot, not while the stern is floating.

On our first visit to the public landing, we got behind several families preparing for what looked like a month-long fishing trip. Car, boat and trailer were already parked in the ramp, with two related cars blocking traffic fifty feet away. We waited while poles, coolers, ice, tackle boxes, pets and small children were retrieved from under seats and from the bottom of car trunks. These were eventually carried, albeit with no sense of urgency, to the dock. Finally a man began loading the pile onboard, and we watched in disbelief as he opened three cases of beer, removed the bottles, and meticulously placed them in the cooler—one at a time!

Rule #2  Keep in mind that tidal waters are called tidal for a reason. 

Last summer we have had particularly vicious low tides. One of our local ramps
is fairly steep and covered in thick sand. Last week a pick-up was backing a heavily loaded 24-footer into the water when, too late, the driver realized he had no traction. His tires spun hopelessly as the bed of his 2WD submerged in slow motion. It took four men, a towrope and a lot of bystander advice nearly an hour before the ramp was cleared. (4WD is recommended.)

Rule #3 Whatever your catastrophe is, don’t block
the ramp.

We have watched boats launch with old fuel, no fuel, dead batteries and, most entertaining of all, with the plug still in the truck’s glove box. A busy Labor Day is not the time to realize that you “haven’t run ’er for awhile” and have no idea whether your boat will float, much less pull away from the dock under her own power. If you want to be on the receiving end of ramp rage, pull out a five-gallon gas can and go for fuel while your boat is still in the ramp. 

Rule #4 The lines in the parking lot are not just suggestions. 

They designate parking spots, and your vehicle belongs between them, not on top of them. On a recent weekend, five vehicles and trailers were parked across spots, leaving five other cars full of eager boaters (including us) no choice but to go home. We thought about leaving notes on their windshields, but we didn’t have enough paper for all of the obligatory swear words.

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Rule #5  Never EVER cut in line.

Just before sunset we were waiting our turn to come into the ramp. There were four boats milling about impatiently in some semblance of a line while one poor guy repeatedly jackknifed his trailer. He finally gave up, waded in, and swam his boat sideways onto the bunks. I was next and had already dropped my husband at the dock. I put the boat in gear just as the landing cleared when suddenly a skiff whizzed past and cut me off. The captain ignored my indignant shouts and my husband’s dirty looks as he and his buddy got their trailer. They even had the nerve to wave as they pulled out of the ramp. 

At this point I gave up on civility. Tired, sunburned and harassed by deer flies, I gunned the engine, roared into the landing and right up on our trailer. Securing everything with lightning speed, we were a model of ramp efficiency for the audience of waiting boaters. Feeling smug, I signaled the okay to go, my husband pulled forward, and the admiring crowd all heard the deafening screech of metal dragging on concrete.

In my haste, I had forgotten
Rule #6.

Rule #6 Take enough time
to do it right.

I tilted up the stern drive and looked down at what was left of the prop. Without another word, I got in the car. 

At least we remembered Rule #3 and didn’t block the ramp.

Ann Eichenmuller and her husband, Eric, are currently waiting at a ramp somewhere in Virginia to launch
My Gold Watch.